reflections on automation in Italy
In Italy, thought leaders from research, education and industry have come together to discuss the future of automation. Gloria Sormani, Universal Robots’ country manager for Italy, explains more.
When the first cobot was introduced in 2008, it came with a vision for the future of automation. A world where robots work around people, and not the other way around. To explore how far cobots have come since then, a selected group of experts in robotics from the worlds of research, education and industry came together in Italy at a series of events that started back in November 2020 and went on until May 2022, called the General State of Collaborative Robotics. The ideas presented at these events became the foundation for a written Charter of Ideas on Collaborative Robotics, a collection of reflections on the visions, experiences, and possibilities of cobots.
People at the center of the production floor
Cobots were created to offer flexible automation and to improve the way humans work. Since these robotic colleagues entered production floors, thousands of companies tell a tale of not only improved working conditions but also a redistribution of tasks. As such, conversations about cobots have become explorations of the new roles that humans will play on the factory floor and a quest to identify the skills they need to acquire for industry 5.0.
In other words, cobots put humans at the center of the production process. When the task of moving heavy boxes from a conveyor belt to a pallet is relocated to a cobot, the previous operator is liberated to use their understanding of the factory system and apply their skills in problem solving and analytical thinking to the entire process. Ensuring this vision of a collaborative factory means reviewing roles, redefining functions, setting up training courses and adapting the wealth of knowledge that both operators and management must possess.
Video featuring female operator from Darex, a manufacturer in Oregon, USA, that was promoted to robot technician after taking the online UR Academy modules. The video tells her story and highlights the overall benefits manufacturers, and their employees realize though the UR Academy. The video was produced for the Academy section of UR's new global virtual expo platform.
Educating the future workforce to work side by side with robots
The automation experts involved in this project set out to map how people could be prepared to work side by side with robots. Although more and more companies are working with robots, the topic still plays a marginal role in school lessons. One of the conclusions was therefore that robotics must be integrated into the design of the education system.
Many of the experts worked together to come up with a roadmap for the Italian education system. Their recommendations were to strengthen STEM-oriented disciplines right from the earliest school years and that investments should be made to reinforce the link between schools and industry. Finally, families should be made aware of the new skills required by modern technology, as they set the foundation for their children’s education.
To make tomorrow’s skilled workers fit for the future, the Carl-Benz School in Koblenz is putting automation at the top of its curriculum. With Universal Robots Education and a collaborative robot, the students not only learn the theory, but also enjoy putting it into practice.
Qualifying current workers to work with cobots
Looking at the workers who are currently on the factory floor, training has been a prominent part of reflections within trade unions. To make operators more competent, Francesco Messano of the Italian Union of Metalworkers UILM presented the suggestion that training on collaborative robotics should be mandatory by embedding it within the metalworkers’ national agreement.
This last reflection is also a fitting echo for the sentiment of this article and the Charter of Collaborative Robotics. Because this suggestion would give workers the skills they need to follow the technological advancements in factories, and this is exactly one of the things that cobots do. On one side they act as a catalyst for redefining work tasks, which allows employees to take on skills that are more valuable. On the other side, they put people back at the center of production processes and put the keys of production back in their hands. One of the first campaign taglines used by Universal Robots was: “Empowering People” and that is exactly what cobots still do.
If you are interested in reading the full version of the Charter of Ideas for Collaborative Robots, the full document can be found here. Should you wish to further explore the interviews behind the ideas in this text, the General State of Collaborative Robotics is available to watch on demand. However, please note that the original material is in Italian.
Written by Gloria Sormani. Gloria is the country manager for Italy. She joined Universal Robots in 2020 and has since then helped companies innovate – one cobot at a time.